It hasn’t been that long ago that someone told me our church’s position on divorce was wrong. We acknowledge that God permits divorce for habitual, unrepentant, hard-hearted violation of the marriage vows. Sexual unfaithfulness, failure to love and provide for, desertion, and abuse (a kind of desertion) are, we maintain, biblical grounds for divorce. In fact, these violations are what destroy the marriage, not the victim who files the legal paperwork. My caller however, insisted upon her rendition of Malachi 2 – claiming that it says “God hates divorce”. What she meant by this, of course, was that “God hates all divorce and thus divorce is never permissible”. She is wrong. Very, very wrong. And her words do great hurt and harm to abuse victims. Christians need to stop saying “God hates divorce.”
Why? Because the Bible does not say this! At least it does not say what people so often want to claim it says when they use their slogan “God hates divorce.” Have you read the English Standard Version for example (emphasis is mine) —
(Malachi 2:14-16 ESV) (14) But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. (15) Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. (16) “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” [Emphasis added.]
What is lacking? “God hates divorce.” Why? Because the translators realize (and this is certainly not the only Bible translation that does this) that what is obnoxious to God is not all divorce, but, as Barbara Roberts puts it in Not Under Bondage [Affiliate link], treacherous divorce. Unjust, wicked, faithless treatment of one’s wife in divorcing her without cause. That is what God hates, and that is what He describes through Malachi as a man (or woman) “covering his garment with violence”. Sinful, hateful, treachery in divorce is the evil here, not divorce in itself. If all divorce were hated by God, He would have to hate Himself because He would be guilty of sin in that He divorced Israel (Jeremiah 3).
Divorce was not God’s original intention for marriage. The destruction of a marriage is always sinful. Always. But that does not mean that God holds an abuse victim guilty if she divorces her abuser. He condemns the abuser and permits her to go free.
And so, we say again to all Christians — stop saying “God hates divorce”. And especially stop saying it to abuse victims. So often, Christians who say this to victims have absolutely no idea what abuse is. They don’t know. And whenever we couple our ignorance with our arrogance, we do great, great harm.
[November 5, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to November 5, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to November 5, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to November 5, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (November 5, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.
6 thoughts on “Stop Saying “God Hates Divorce””
Do you have any words of wisdom? In 2009 we read David Instone-Brewer’s books on divorce? We made a huge mistake and wrote a paper on our findings and sent it to church leadership. They refuse to discuss it with us. We left in hopes of finding a church where we had more freedom. But we couldn’t find one that believed the Bible. Those who believe the Bible refuse to discuss it with us, because they think we are going against the very words of Jesus.
How were you able to change your mind?
Dear Sandy: I think that Barbara Roberts will be answering your question as well. She is quite familiar with Instone-Brewer’s work and in fact he wrote a recommendation on the back cover of her book “Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery, and Desertion”. You can order a copy of her book Not Under Bondage [Affiliate link].
For myself, having been a conservative pastor for nearly 30 years now, I came to understand that the Lord permits divorce for abuse by studying abuse in depth. Its nature and its tactics. Through an incident of abuse in our church I began my study and as I learned about the evils of abuse I came to realize that once we properly understand the abuser’s mindset and methods, we cannot help but conclude that such a person destroys the marriage covenant and in fact is guilty of the desertion as outlined in 1 Cor 7. Thus the believing spouse is not under bondage and is free to remarry.
As my study continued and we wrote the book “A Cry for Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church” (to be published this fall by “Calvary Press”), I realized that there is NO monolithic agreement among conservative churches about what the biblical grounds for divorce are. Some say “no divorce, ever”. Others say “no remarriage as long as a spouse or ex-spouse is alive”. Others say “divorce for adultery”. Others claim “adultery or desertion” are grounds. And ALL of them teach their positions as being biblical! And many require their members to “adhere to their position or face church discipline”. I wondered “How in the world can any of them in clear conscience hold people to their position and claim they are right when so many other Bible-believing Christians differ in their conclusions?” I concluded that Barbara Roberts and David Instone-Brewer were correct. That clearly the very character of God and of marriage decry any notion of an abuse victim being required to remain married to their abuser.
For the most part, pastors and Christians are simply ignorant of this thing called abuse, but they don’t realize that they are. They exalt marriage as if man were made for marriage rather than marriage being made for man. And they continue to effect great injustice and suffering upon the victims of abuse who are in their churches and look to them for help.
I don’t think you made a mistake in writing and presenting that paper. I admire your courage. You are facing some of the very same strongholds that we are.
I admit that, even as a victim of abuse, I do not have trouble with the statement ‘God hates divorce’. I believe God does hate divorce, just as He hates all sin. Do we have trouble with the statement that ‘God hates sin’ when we know we are all sinners? No. We know that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, the penalty of our sin has been paid and we can come to God to be forgiven when we confess and repent of our sin.
The statement ‘God hates divorce’ does NOT mean that God hates everyone who is divorced – nor does it mean that He hates the person who files for divorce. God hates the sin that causes the divorce — the adultery, the manipulation, the control, the abuse — that causes a marriage covenant to be broken. Even those sins can be forgiven by God when there is true confession and real repentance (involving long-term change including the underlying belief of entitlement that drives abuse). The person who was wronged, who was abused, who was damaged, and who is divorced as a result is NOT hated by God. God’s love is overwhelming to the ‘bruised’ and the ‘bleeding’.
The statement ‘God hates divorce’ is often used wrongly against divorced victims – those who wanted their marriages to last, who worked for years to do what they were told God wanted, who struggled desperately to face the truth that their spouse did not choose to change, who suffered in the church – but who did not have any voice in their marriage because they were a victim of abuse. Abuse is wrong, whether by an individual, a group, or an institution. Abuse using God’s word is especially insidious.
MM – excellent words. Thank you. And if you haven’t, read Barbara Roberts’ book “Not Under Bondage”. It particularly deals with that Malachi 2:16 verse.
[…] from evil for you or your kids. Why? Because “God hates divorce.” Never mind that the verse doesn’t actually say that. Never mind that He also hates violence and lying lips and incest. There’s forgiveness for […]
For those with internet access, one plus is the ability to read and compare different Bible translations, often side-by-side.
Not everyone has the time or the inclination for research, but relying on only one source for interpretation / translation may leave the picture incomplete.
Initial conclusions may / may not change.
A word, a turn of phrase, different punctuation — the meaning changes. Sometimes, so does a life.